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Good light show coming…you just won’t be able to talk about it

Watch for some fascinating Northern Lights coming this Friday.

Satellites have just detected a powerful X1.6-class solar flare. The source was active sunspot AR2158, which is directly facing Earth. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash. Ionizing radiation from the flare could cause HF radio blackouts and other communications disturbances, especially on the day-lit side of Earth. In the next few hours, when coronagraph data from SOHO and STEREO become available, we will see if a coronal mass ejection (CME) emerges from the blast site. If so, the cloud would likely be aimed directly at Earth and could reach our planet in 2 to 3 days.

[Source, Slashdot, X-Class Solar Flare Coming Friday]

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SCIENCE! That planets are aligning in the sky

This is a great week to wake your children early and peer into the sky. Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are visible to the naked eye. Binoculars or a small telescope will allow you to see Uranus and Neptune. Any camera with a telephoto lens should be able to capture all 6 at once.

For the last two months, almost all the planets have been hiding behind the sun, but this week they all emerge and are arrayed in a grand line above the rising sun.

[Source, LiveScience, Six Planets Now Aligned in the Dawn Sky by Geoff Gaherty]

Picture credit: Starry Night Software. Picture borrowed from LiveScience

Inspire your children. Awe them with the wonders of the universe. Arise early. Hear the birds. See the planets.

If you get confused looking at objects in the sky, consider the iPhone/iPad app "GoSkyWatch" It is undeniably one of my favorite applications. I spent most of my life with astronomy books unsure if I was correctly identifying objects in the sky. GoSkyWatch removes all doubt, adds factoids, and makes star gazing so much more fun. [Link to app]

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Rare East Coast rocket launch tonight at 7:35

Launch currently scheduled for 7:35pm tonight.Launch completed successfully! No sign of it in the sky from Knoxville but live stream was beautiful. Friend in Delaware was able to see the 2nd stage separation.

NASA is again going to attempt to launch an Air Force Minotaur I rocket carrying the Air Force Research Laboratory’s TacSat-3 satellite, NASA’s PharmaSat microsatellite, and NASA’s CubeSat Technology Demonstration experiments, which includes three four-inch cubed satellites, developed by universities and industry. [Source] The launch will be from the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. I read that if the skies are clear, the launch will be visible up to 800 miles away (but I could be misinformed). Knoxville is roughly 450 miles as the crow flies. If you don’t want to leave the house, NASA has the most exceptional webcasts available. The Wallops launch is already streaming live. Read more at the Wallops site or follow @NASA_Wallops on Twitter. Be sure to also follow @ATKRocketNews Trina Patterson of ATK who gives additional Twitter commentary on the launch.

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This will make you feel small

Last year I helped Noah use string to show the scale of distances between planets. I had never conceptualized it before and I was blown away. When people speak of "space" they really mean space. There is a lot of it out there. After watching this video, I feel tiny and wonder why we don’t have space ships of humans spreading throughout the universe on great explores.

HowClick here for more home videos

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And it streaked across the sky…

Last night Tommy and I had a great pleasure. We saw a shooting star and this wasn’t one of those tiny thin lines way up in the sky. This was a streaking fireball that at first I thought it to be a low flying helicopter as the light seemed to just appear but then it grew brighter and formed a tail then burned in a green ball. It was wicked!

I have seen tiny shooting stars before but this is only the second time in my life I have seen one so close. The first time I was lying on the ground by a bonfire in south Knoxville and a smoky rock streaked from horizon to horizon so low that it seemed like I could have thrown something at it. I swear I could distinguish pockmarks as it flew overhead. Tonight’s was different and very cool.

This happened a few minutes before 9pm EST (2am UTC). Anyone else see it?

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Why do we need a moonbase?

Nasa claims we need a moonbase to launch missions to Mars. This makes sense and would be a good staging place to initiate long range space travel. The tourist possibilities are great also.

Slate says we do not have a need for a moonbase and are going to build it then decide what to do with it.

Coming under a presidency whose slogan might be “No Price Too High To Accomplish Nothing,” the idea of a permanent, crewed moon base nevertheless takes the cake for preposterousness. [Source]

Frankly I think the real reason for the moonbase is military. No one will say that because the public would cry foul. With China planning to orbit the moon…er, in 2006 and India planning on landing on the moon by 2020, it becomes self-evident that one of the countries is going to lay a claim to the moon. Whichever country establishes a base on the moon first will control the moon because nothing else will be able to be built on the moon after that without the first country’s consent. Just imagine you have built a base on the moon, learned your lessons about decompression, managing gravity, fueling, supplying and so forth. You have a presence and a small contingent of armed soldiers. Now someone else tries to build a base from scratch. They could not possibly defend their efforts from a well trained group of soldiers intent on demolition and learn the lessons to successfully build their base. Also, current military based satellites can easily be disabled or destroyed. A moonbase would be more difficult to attack and would make a far more stable launching platform for earthbound missiles.

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick had the right vision for a moonbase.